Easy access to medical professionals through social media could prompt someone with amorous feelings to take a step further this Valentine’s Day.
Patients could send a gift, contact the doctor through Facebook or Twitter or even make advances during an appointment, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has warned.
In rare cases, the doctor can become a victim of stalking, harassment or complaints. The MDU has warned doctors to maintain clear professional boundaries to avoid patient advances.
Over 700 advice files have been opened by the MDU relating to boundary issues, with over half involving GPs.
Dr Claire Macaulay, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: "Most people wouldn't associate passionate feelings with the consulting room but there are a few patients who misinterpret a doctor's behaviour and try to move the professional relationship on to a more romantic footing. Access to medical professionals via social media can also lead to blurred boundaries and certain websites like yourdoctorboyfriend.com may seem like harmless fun but could lead to doctors becoming the target of unwanted advances.
“The best way for doctors to avoid becoming the object of a patient’s inappropriate affections is for them to maintain clear professional boundaries with patients and be wary of sharing personal information during appointments.”
The MDU has issued the following tips to help doctors avoid unwanted attention this Valentine’s Day or during the rest of the year:
- Avoid sharing personal information during consultations or online.
- Do not accept friendship requests from patients on Facebook.
- If a patient makes amorous advances, log all contact with them, including any inappropriate behaviour and gifts received.
- Tell the patient politely but firmly that their advances are unwelcome and that you are unable to accept any gifts or pursue any kind of personal relationship with them.
- Consider the use of a chaperone when treating the patient, if the patient agrees.
- Seek support from colleagues, while always respecting patient confidentiality.
- Consider asking whether a colleague can take over the patient’s care. However, bear in mind you may still be obliged to treat the patient in an emergency.
- If you feel that your safety or that of others may be threatened by the patient’s behaviour, you might decide to involve the police. However, you should not divulge any confidential clinical details about the patient without the patient’s consent, unless this would be justifiable in the public interest.